Unintended Consequences of “Blue Lives Matter” Laws

January 27, 2017 by

Ahead of Texas’ 85th legislative session, there was discussion of “Blue Lives Matter” legislation, similar to what other states have enacted. The impetus behind these measures is what some believe is a war on cops. The hope is that by elevating a crime in which an officer is the victim, to a hate crime, the behavior will be deterred.

While there is little reason to believe that making these crimes hate crimes would have any positive impact, especially since crimes against police officers in Texas carry the harshest sentences possible, some lawmakers feel the need for it.

But, since the idea is to follow in the footsteps of states that have paved the way for this legislation, it’s probably best to see how it has been implemented elsewhere, like our neighbors in Louisiana.

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards signed the state’s Blue Lives Matter bill into law last May. Their results are worth examining since they were the first in the nation to enact this law.

Reportedly, the first man to be arrested under this law was Raul Delatoba.

Delatoba was arrested for damaging property and disturbing the peace while on a night out in New Orleans. After breaking a window at the Royal Sonesta Hotel in the French Quarter, he was detained by two officers.

While at the 8th District police station, Delatoba referred to both the female officer and the African American officer with derogatory names leading to him being given a hate crime charge. He didn’t target the officers, nor did his original crime even involve them, but because of what he chose to say during arrest, he was charged with a hate crime.

The slurs may have been based on race and sex, but the warrant said the charge was based on, “an attack on individuals based on their race, sex, and occupation.”

While the prosecutor determined that the law was misapplied, and subsequently dropped the charge, Delatoba sat in jail for over a month until his mother could raise the money for bail because the magistrate judge included the hate crime in setting the bail.

More recently, a Louisiana police chief said that the law extends to those who simply resist arrest.

“Resisting an officer or battery of a police officer was just that charge, simply. But now, Governor Edwards, in the legislation, made it a hate crime,” said St. Martinville Police Chief Calder Hebert.

Since that statement, Gov. Edwards’ Communications Director said that the police chief was not accurate in his assumption of what the law does. But, how is the fact that a chief law enforcement officer doesn’t understand how to apply the law reassuring to civilians?

The problem with hate crime legislation is, unless a defendant explicitly states they committed a crime with the sole purpose of harming a police officer or other first responder, then prosecutors and police are left to determine, in each instance, what the intent was and whether it stemmed from a hatred of police officers.

Allowing law enforcement to apply the law based on what they feel, rather than what the facts are, is highly problematic, and can easily lead to over-criminalization of otherwise less significant crimes.

Ultimately, this all comes down to the prosecutor whose desk these cases land on.  But, with many prosecutors still attempting to be tough on crime in order to be reelected, or trying to rack up high-profile convictions to add to their resume, this wide discretion can cause a problem.

Delatoba may have had his charges dropped in the end, but he still sat in a cell for over a month with an excessive bail amount because of how broadly this law is being applied.

If Texas lawmakers are serious about bringing this law to Texas, they need to make sure that it is written in such a way that it doesn’t entangle defendants who were not otherwise targeting law enforcement.

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About the Author

Charles operates the Houston office for Empower Texans/Texans for Fiscal Responsibility.